The first Sunday of Summerfest featured a bit of nasty weather during the afternoon hours and then cleared up beautifully in time for the evening sets. Many patrons were in the middle of a long holiday weekend, of course, surely driving up attendance beyond typical Sunday numbers. The Miller Lite Oasis was the rap destination of the day, and two Milwaukee artists reaped the benefits as they warmed up the proceedings for one of Atlanta’s most accomplished exports.
The party had begun well before Yo-Dot hit the stage. The sizable crowd of bleacher-dancers was enthusiastic as DJ SnackDaddy played all kinds of classic tracks but only a minute or so of each one before switching it up; by the time Yo-Dot emerged, everyone had to be anxious for a full song.
While fans have been waiting years for his Burleigh Bodega project (still reportedly in the works), Yo-Dot has kept a fairly high profile this year, opening for Wale at The Rave in May and posting a few new tracks on Soundcloud. He gave plenty of shouts to the headliner, although the crowd made significantly more “motherfucking noise” when asked if they came here to get drunk than if they came here to see Ludacris.
The groove was in full swing as Yo-Dot rolled out “Paradise,” a standout track from his 2012 Red Mist LP, but then technology threatened to derail the set, as SnackDaddy seemed at a loss to make a sound. Yo-Dot salvaged some goodwill with a bit of a capella freestyle, and eventually the beat came back online but the sound never fully recovered, leaving the crowd somewhat in limbo. Fortunately, a guest appearance by the charismatic Black Chris re-energized the proceedings with “Slap Zone,” and the crew managed to end the memorable set on a high note.
Fellow Milwaukeean Ray Nitti had a taste of success beyond the Brew City with his 2009 single “Bow,” yet now that the local hip-hop scene is, by most accounts, experiencing a renaissance, Nitti seems to be an outsider, at least in terms of press coverage. His style may not be groundbreaking, but he definitely knows how to work a crowd, and his overall message is refreshingly positive. He opened with “Cease Fire” from last year’s A Few Chunes album, and the anti-violence message resonated strongly with the audience, which by now was about as big as the Oasis area was designed to accommodate.
The live video feed on the big screens provided some bonus entertainment, hilariously capturing oblivious audience members during “I See You.” Hopefully the kid swigging brown liquid from a Listerine bottle didn’t get swarmed by security. A healthy portion of the crowd was clearly very familiar with Nitti’s catalog, and the slow jam “Won’t Do” got a particularly rousing reaction. By set’s end, the stage was crowded with guests, including some dude with a full goat-head mask. Dare we say Ludacris had his work cut out for him? No, not really.
Since about 2010, Ludacris has apparently been more focused on film and television than music. He’s only put out one album in this span (2015’s Ludaversal), but he did release a new single in March: “Vitamin D,” full of his typically impressive vocal gymnastics and a handful of his most groan-inducing lines yet (“The girls stay wetter than Michael Phelps”—swoon). The fact that this many people would cram themselves like live bait into instant stampede conditions to shout every chorus (and most verses) of this man’s songs suggests that he’s officially a Classic Rap artist.
As Luda pointed out repeatedly, he’s had an awful lot of hits over the years, and he packed most of them into his hour-plus set. The smooth mashing together of “Area Codes” and “Ho” was a nice touch, but for the most part he did full songs, and even fans almost beyond earshot had their hands in the air and chimed in at all the key moments. The Ludacris audience is a microcosm of Summerfest itself in that it’s a true melting pot. No matter what age group or category of American humanity you happen to fall into, you might well be a fan. Does this indicate timelessness? The only thing that felt retro was the sense of unselfconscious hedonistic escapism, grandfathered into a broad cross-section of society from a time before widespread knee-jerk social media outrage.
“If you’re over thirty, make some noise!” did actually get a huge response, but the massive singalong/pogo party as DJ Infamous spun “Smells Like Teen Spirit” wasn’t limited to Gen-Xers by any means. This moment of populist glee was eclipsed only by the requisite encore of “Move Bitch,” an unavoidable single around the turn of the millennium and on that’s apparently embraced now by millennials as well. It’s hard to say whether it was adopted as kitsch or as a genuine anthem, but it’s probably all the same to Ludacris.